************ Sermon on 2 Timothy 4:6-8 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on December 31, 2003

2 Timothy 4:1-8
2 Timothy 4:6-8
"Does a Crown of Righteousness Await You?"

I An End is Near
A The end of a year is always a time for reflection. Like me, I am sure you have considered what has happened in the past year and contemplated what might happen in the future year.

What stands out in 2003? On the international, national, state, and local level many things happened that made the year 2003 very newsworthy:
-The Iraqi war and the capture of Saddam Hussein
-SARS in China, Asia, and Canada
-Howard Dean is the front runner for the Democrats
-Libya has agreed to disclose and dismantle its WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) program
-Lance Armstrong won his 5th Tour de France
-Columbia broke apart as it returned from space
-Jessica Lynch was rescued from her Iraqi captors
-The Washington, D.C., snipers
-The lights went out on the East coast
-Elizabeth Smart was returned to her family
-The Episcopalians ordained a gay bishop
-The recall of Grey Davis and the election of Arnold
-California had devastating fires followed by devastating mud slides
-Mad Cow disease was found in the U.S.
-Tulare County started to issue dairy permits again
-Hispanics became the majority race in the county
-The voters of Visalia approved the hospital bond
-The auto-mall was approved
-The Packwood Creek development finally started
-The CVC football and volleyball teams were champions
And, what will happen in 2004? Only God knows for sure. Will the world economy improve? Will President Bush be reelected? Will some third-world nation succeed in developing a nuclear bomb? Will North Korea give up on its program of developing Weapons of Mass Destruction? Will the auto-mall be stopped?

What stands out in 2003? On the Christian Reformed Church scene many momentous things occurred:
-First Toronto CRC publicly admitted they have practicing gay and lesbian members who not only are members in good standing but are also being considered for church office
-The Synod of the CRC refused to say anything about First Toronto
-Small churches were informed they need to pay more for their pastor's pension and that many of them no longer qualify for denominational aid
-Classis Central California of the CRC is being urged to seat women delegates, but only by way of exception
And, what will happen to the Christian Reformed Church in 2004? Again, only God knows for sure. Will we gain or lose members? Will there be more splits and schisms? Will Synod again ratify the decision on women in church office and perhaps make it binding on all the churches?

What stands out in 2003 in terms of our personal lives? Perhaps 2003 will be remembered for the birth of a child, the death of a dear one, a marriage in the family. Perhaps 2003 will be remembered for an illness, an operation, a great financial loss, a great financial gain. And, what will happen in 2004? Will we all be alive to greet 2005? Will we experience health and prosperity in the coming year?

When we think back on 2003 we should also consider the matter of spiritual growth or decline. How was 2003 on the state of your soul? Did you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ? Was 2003 marked by faith or unbelief? Did you become more or less holy and Christ-like during the year? And, what will happen to your soul in 2004? Will 2004 be a year of growth? How many of our Young People will come forward to profess their faith? How successful will we be in saying "no" to temptation and resisting sin?

B In our Scripture reading we see that the Apostle Paul also faced an end not to a year, but to his life. And like us, as the end is coming, Paul thinks on the past and looks toward the future.

Paul was in prison. He knew there was little chance of his getting out. He knew that he was soon going to die a martyr's death. He says,
(2Tim 4:6) For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.
The Greek language raises the image of a ship. Its anchor has been lifted, its sails have been unfurled, and it is about to depart for distant ports. That's Paul the time of his departure has almost arrived. His cup is almost empty, and almost all the sands of time allotted to him have run through the hour-glass.

II Thinks on the Past
A Paul, knowing that the end is near, thinks on the past. He doesn't think in terms of financial gain or loss, children, parties, weddings, funerals. When Paul considers the past he contemplates the state of his soul. When Paul considers the past he looks at how well he has served the Lord. What does Paul say about himself? He says,
(2Tim 4:7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Paul raises 3 separate images here.

1. "I have fought the good fight." I remember gym class in high school. We spent a couple of months each winter learning the fundamentals of wrestling different holds, how to flip one's opponent on to his back, and so on. At the end of the course the coach would divide us into different weight categories and would have us compete against each other. What counted for our grade was not size or strength but how well we fought whether we used the holds and moves taught us. Paul is thinking of such a wrestling match. "I have fought the good fight."

We know that Paul means he has fought and struggled for the Lord and the faith. He says earlier to Timothy, "Fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Tim 6:12). Paul talks here, then, of how he has fought against error and heresy. He speaks of his fight to win souls for the Lord. He speaks here of his fight against sin and evil.

2. "I have finished the race." Notice, Paul doesn't say he won the race; rather, he only claims to have finished the race. A father tells us the story of Sandy, his 16 year old son.
Topic: Sanctification
Index: 3140-3141
Date: 12/2003.101
Title: I Have Finished the Race

Sandy developed a very serious heart problem when he was younger. The problem seemed to be corrected by surgery and he returned to the athletics he loved so much, particularly track and cross-country running. Once he was pulling ahead to a record-setting victory in the mile run with a 40-yard lead on the next runner. Then either his old heart problem came back or he developed a problem with his legs. He stumbled and fell. He picked himself up and stumbled forward a few more yards and fell again. Looking around, he saw the second-place runner closing in on him. Sandy rose to his hands and knees and crawled under the tape, across the finish line and fell there, having won his race. They took a picture of that dramatic finish and put it in our paper. When I saw it, I thought of Paul's words, "I have finished the race."

We know that Paul is talking here of a life of Christian discipleship (cf 1 Cor 9:24; Heb 12:1-2). He is talking here of how he has lived and worked for the Lord.

3. "I have kept the faith." Guarding Paul were Imperial soldiers of the Roman army. It was boring duty. More than once they must have wondered why they were guarding what seemed like a harmless old man. Yet, they guarded him anyway because of the oath they took upon joining the army: love for country, obedience to one's superiors, loyal service (Romans 13:1-7).

"I have kept the faith," says Paul. Like a good Roman soldier he has been true and obedient. Of course, Paul is thinking of obedience to the Lord and loyalty to the faith. Paul knew first hand of many people who had slipped from the faith. He knew of persons in whom the Gospel flourished for a brief time only to wither and die. He knew of individuals who had left the church and turned or returned to a life of sin. He knew souls that fell into error and heresy. "As for me," says Paul, "I have kept the faith."

B Paul has fought the "good" fight. This means he fought to the end. He never quit the struggle. He never gave up. He fought the good fight to the end.

"I have finished the race." Again, the emphasis is on the fact that he never quit, that he never gave up, that he kept on going and fighting and running for the Lord.

"I have kept the faith." He didn't fall away. Again, the emphasis is on the fact that he never quit, that he never gave up, that he kept on going and fighting and running for the Lord.

Paul never quit. For the sake of the Gospel and the faith he was put in prison, he was whipped, he was threatened, he was ship-wrecked, he faced a martyr's death. Did he ever give up? Did he desert the faith? Did he stop fighting the fight? Did he stop running the race? No! As Paul puts it,
(Acts 20:24) However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
Only one things counts for Paul whether or not he has served the Lord. His life, the things of this life, none of these were important to him. What was important was a life of continuous service to and for the Lord.

C Think back on the past year, my brothers and sisters. How does 2003 measure up? Can you say with Paul,
(2Tim 4:7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Has 2003 been a year of service for the Lord? Was 2003 a year in which your relationship with the Lord was the most important thing in your life? Or, was 2003 a year in which you gave up; a year in which you stopped trying; a year in which you stopped fighting the fight of the faith, stopped running the race of the Christian life, stopped holding to the faith? Spiritually speaking, did things go forwards or backwards in your life this past year? Were you or were you not faithful to the Lord in 2003?
Topic: Perseverance
Index: 3441
Date: 12/1996.14

In a 1995 NCAA cross-country championship held in Riverside, California, 123 of the 128 runners missed a turn. One competitor, Mike Delcavo, stayed on the 10,000 meter course and began waving for fellow runners to follow him. Delcavo was able to convince only four other runners to go with him. Asked what his competitors thought of his mid-race decision not to follow the crowd, Delcavo responded, "They thought it was funny that I went the right way."
Delcavo ran the race the right way. In the same way, our goal is to run correctly; to finish the race marked out for us by Christ.

There is much that would keep us from fighting the fight, running the race, and keeping the faith. It is easy, far too easy, to become discouraged and to simply give up. It is easy, far too easy, to let the circumstances of our life get us down. Death, sickness, cancer, unemployment, financial and business troubles, problems with children, disagreement on the interpretation of Scripture, church splits all of these can far too easily distract us from spiritual growth. So I ask you again, how does 2003 measure up? Can you say with Paul,
(2Tim 4:7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

III Looks to the Future
A Paul, knowing the end is near, thinks not only on the past but he also looks to the future:
(2Tim 4:8) Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day ...
Paul has served the Lord. Now all that remains is for him to receive his reward.

Paul sees the day when he stands before the Lord. The Lord reviews his life and says, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. Here is your crown of righteousness." Paul is not talking here of eternal life for that comes only by grace through faith. He is talking here of God's gracious reward for those righteous who have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.
Topic: Reward
Subtopic: For Righteousness
Index: 3046
Date: 12/2003.101

A newspaper article reminded me of the kind of "delayed returns" we should be living for. It told of a car dealer who went out of his way to give a foreign student an honest deal on a new automobile. Fifteen years later, the young man had become the sole purchasing agent for the Iranian Contractors Association. He showed his gratitude for the kindness he had received by placing a multimillion-dollar order with that dealer for 750 heavy dump trucks and 350 pickups. "It's unbelievable!" exclaimed the businessman. The good he had done was rewarded years later beyond his wildest imagination.
Just as that salesman's reward came later so too God will commend us in Glory. If we remain faithful God will someday reward us.

B What is this reward that God gives not just to Paul but to all His faithful people? It is a "crown of righteousness." In the Greek athletic games that Paul was thinking of when he wrote to Timothy, the victor was crowned with a garland or wreath made of branches and flowers. The crown itself has no value; its value consists solely in what it symbolizes; the crown symbolizes victory. The same is true of the Christian's crown the crown itself has no value; its value consists solely in what it symbolizes; the Christian's crown symbolizes victory. By grace, God gives a crown of victory for a life of faithful service. Those who wear the crown are victorious over death, over sin, over evil, over Satan, over sickness, over discouragement.

C Let me ask you: is that crown reserved for you? Will God someday say to you, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. Here is your crown of righteousness"? He will if you fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. So I ask you one final time: how does 2003 measure up?
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